Tuesday, July 11, 2006

(Tech) Angels and ?
This year I have had opportunity to talk to a large number of teachers as part of my e-fellows research. One recurring theme has been computer technicians. There seem to be two categories of tech people in schools. One sort are indispensable - they are often teachers, have a teaching background or at the very least have an understanding of learning and the needs of teachers and students. They spend many hours, often unpaid and often unthanked, keeping computers running in classrooms. They help to make computers work for teachers and students. If teachers have a problem they go out of their way to find solutions. They understand that sometimes students will change computer settings but empower teachers by showing them how to fix the most common of these changes. They take these problems as an inevitable side effect of giving freedoms, but know that the benefits in terms of learning far outweigh any difficulties.

The other sort of technician would rather have no teachers or students getting in the way of the smooth running of their computers. They lockdown systems so tightly that no-one can change anything. They grump and groan when problems occur and take weeks to fix them. They complain constantly about students and teachers who create more work for them.
If the school has internet filtering software they have so many filters in place students and teachers can’t find anything. If teachers want sites added to the exceptions list they take weeks to consider this and more weeks before they do something about it - usually after the unit it was needed for has finished.

These people don’t give teachers any rights at all over their computers and certainly don’t show them how to do anything - that would take away from their power. They don’t take the time to explain the reasons behind their decisions and certainly don’t want to discuss them.
The result of this is we end up with computers sitting idle because they are so locked down they are useless. Teachers who were a little reluctant to use computers use these incidents as an excuse not to use them. Teachers who want to use them tear their hair out trying to get anything done. The technicians are happy - computers that aren’t being used don’t have problems. The students however are missing out and we shouldn’t let this happen.

Now I know these are two extremes but most technicians fall on a continuum somewhere between the two. If your tech person is nearer the first end of the spectrum, be thankful and, more importantly - thank them. If yours falls nearer the other end, challenge them, speak to the people who have influence and force changes. Yes there will be some problems when computers are freed up but the sky will not fall in and teachers may actually be able to use computers the way they were intended - to facilitate learning.

If you have any horror stories about the second type of technician I would love to hear them - e-mail me at jkellow@xtra.co.nz or write a comment on my blog if you want to share it with others. If you have one of the first sort I’d love to hear about that too - these people need to be recognised.

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